This week the government started testing its plans for managing road freight in Kent in case there are delays in goods leaving the Port of Dover or Channel Tunnel after Brexit. Before Christmas, with other Kent MPs I attended a briefing with the Roads Minister, Jesse Norman, along with Highways England and the Police to discuss these proposals in more detail. We will also meet again later this month to review the results of this week’s road testing.
As I have long argued, regardless of the cause of any delays for freight leaving the country, we need a new way to manage congestion, rather than using Operation Stack. Since the crisis in the summer of 2015, we have been urging the government to devise a scheme which allows the M20 to remain open in both directions, when there are delays. The longer-term solution will involve the construction of lorry parking facilities to hold vehicles off road until they are able to leave the country. The Department for Transport has been consulting on the best location for this new facility, and we expect to hear more about this in the next couple of months. The funding for this has been ring-fenced from the £250million awarded to the project by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne in November 2015.
The scheme that the government is testing this week involves diverting lorries bound for Dover to wait on hard standing ground at Manston Airport. They would complete their journey to the Port along the A256 and then the A2 Jubilee Way. Lorries heading for the Channel Tunnel, would be held in a contraflow system on the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford. If required in case of severe delays, the government is also considering holding lorries on the M26.
Brexit does not mean that there has to be delays in moving goods out of the country, but we need to be prepared in case this happens, and therefore contingency planning is a sensible precaution. We also need a scheme that allows our major roads, like the M20 to remain open in both directions, even when there are delays.
Last week I spoke with the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, about the problems over the Christmas period with small boats of migrants crossing the Channel from France, to reach the Kent coast. This activity has been understandably concerning for residents living in the communities where the landings have taken place. These journeys are also incredibly dangerous, and nobody wants to see lives lost as a result of this activity. The Home Secretary confirmed to me that as well as bringing more patrol vessels into the Dover Straits, he is working closely with the French authorities to identify the gangs trafficking people across the Channel, before they can put their plans into operation. I believe that this is the right approach, as we need to stop the boats leaving France in the first place. Failing this, we need to share intelligence with the French authorities so that boats can be returned to their ports much earlier in the crossing; rather than waiting for them to get halfway across the Channel before acting.